SYDNEY - Australian police Wednesday dismissed any suggestion the wildfires that have killed more than 180 people could have been started by Islamic militants waging "forest jihad".
The idea has started to turn up on Internet blog sites after reports last year that a group of Islamic extremists had urged Muslims to light bushfires as a weapon of terror.
Police believe some of the fires that ripped through southeast Australia since the weekend were started by arsonists, but a spokesman said there was no suspicion they were Islamic terror attacks.
"None at all, absolutely nothing, zero," Superintendent Ross McNeill told AFP.
"We usually rank possibilities on a scale of 0 to 10 - this would be on a negative scale," he said.
McNeill said he was aware of last year's report, which said US intelligence channels had identified a website calling on Muslims in Australia, the US, Europe and Russia to "start forest fires".
The report, carried by Melbourne's The Age newspaper on September 7, said the website claimed "scholars have justified chopping down and burning the infidels" forests when they do the same to our lands.
"Posted by a group called the Al-Ikhlas Islamic Network, it argues in Arabic that lighting fires is an effective form of terrorism justified in Islamic law under the doctrine of an 'eye for an eye'," the report said.
It calls on Muslims to remember "forest jihad" in summer, saying fires cause economic damage and can take months to extinguish so that "this terror will haunt them for an extended period of time".
The Age report said Australian intelligence agencies were treating the possibility that bushfires could be used as a weapon of terrorism as a serious concern.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the federal government remained "vigilant against such threats", warning that anyone caught lighting a fire as a weapon of terror would feel the wrath of anti-terror laws, the paper said.
But McNeill insisted there was no suggestion of a link to the fires that razed entire towns last weekend, killing at least 181 people and destroying more than 750 homes.